Why French People May Be Rude To You And How To Avoid It

by Sylviane Nuccio on February 21, 2014

in Facts About France

Some people say that French people are rude, which by the way, it’s more of a rumor than the real truth.

But let me ask you this! Have you ever asked yourself why you might have found yourself in situations that you might have provoked, unwillingly, because you didn’t know enough about the French culture?

Culture differences can sometimes rub a person the wrong way and make them react in a way that seems rude. So, in this post I wanted to tell you about a few things that will make just any French person you meet much nicer to you.

So, let’s start.

Speak French

Don’t worry, I’m not asking you to be fluent in French here, but being able to speak just a little French can go a long way.

It’s a fact that the French like their language. They even have an association that was created to protect it, which is called l’Academie Française.

When approaching someone to ask for directions, or when checking in a hotel, try not to start with “Do you speak English?” Rather, start in French and when the French person will see that you’re struggling, they’ll surely try to help you in English if they can.

When French people travel abroad, they usually travel with at least some basic knowledge of the language, so they kind of expect the same from everyone who comes to them.

Even if you’re far from being fluent in French, starting a sentence in French when speaking to a French person in France can give you an opening that you might otherwise not have had.  French people will always appreciate that you’re trying and be kinder to you for that.

I mean, don’t you expect people coming here speak to at least some English?

Don’t Stiff up if Given la Bise

Don’t stiff up if someone gives you a “bise” as a welcome hello.

This gesture is as common as the hand shake in France, and while that doesn’t apply to strangers, it’s also based on circumstantial situations. Which means that given the right circumstances you may end up getting a bise from someone you don’t particularly know.

Don’t panic if that happens. They won’t bite you and it’s not going to kill you either. Relax and play along.

Learn about the “Tu” and “Vous”

Always use the “tu” with caution in France.  The rule of thumb is never to use the unformal “tu” when meeting someone you don’t know. And that includes if they rich, poor, smart, dumb, blue collar, white collar, male, female, young or old. Just don’t. Period.

Only if all the above are children can nyou use the “tu” freely, even if it’s the first time you meet them.

But this is where it becomes more complicated. You may still need to use the formal “vous” when speaking to someone older, an authority figure, or any one you want to show respect for, even if you know them.

For example, there are some people who are my mother’s age that have known me since my mother was pregnant with me, and who have of course always used the “tu” when speaking to me.  On the other hand, since they are much older than me I’ve always used “vous” when speaking to them, and not matter how old I get that will never change.

You would use the familiar “tu” for family, friends, relatives, your peers, and children. You would use the formal “vous” for coworkers that are not your peers , your boss, and anyone you don’t know.  Your boss will also use “vous” to speak to you as well. Most office and professional settings use the formal “vous.”

The tu and vous are very important in France, while they are not as important in African countries where they speak French, or Canada, which is a little confused, because of the American influence. Don’t confuse French spoken in Europe with other French speaking people.

That’s why the act of using tu and vous has a verb in the French language. Tutoyer is the act of using tu and vouvoyer is the act of using vous.

In movies you may have someone starting to “tutoyer” a person that would require to be “vouvoyer” and the offended dude may say something like “Pourquoi me tutoyez-vou?” In other words, why are use speaking to me in such a familiar way? Doing so on purpose can be downright condescending or even insulting.

Of course, as a foreigner if you do make a mistake, they’ll understand that you don’t know any better, but it’s always better to be in the know.

Don’t Forget to Say Bonjour

Don’t ever come in a room, a small store, or office without saying bonjour. Greeting is taken much more seriously in France than it is here in the US. So much so, that I remember that it took a while for my mother to get used to this indifferent behavior here in the US.

When she used to come spend 3 months out of the year here with me, I had to explain to her that saying hello is not as important for Americans, but she still didn’t like that.

So, you can only imagine if you come to them and do this? They won’t like it and then you’re going to say that French are rude with you. But it might be because they think that you are very rude yourself.

So, beware. Only if you come in a big crowded place you won’t have to say bonjour, but remember that this is common decency when meeting just a handful of people in a small enclosure.

Don’t be too Loud in a Public Places

It’s a known fact that Americans tend to speak louder in public places than French do. French tend to speak very low in public places for both privacy and not impeding on other people’s life. I’ve heard from American people being embarrassed by the loud behavior of other American folks in other countries.

It is a know fact that where there is a small group of Americans walking on the street, in the subway. at a cafe or restaurant, you know they’re there.  Some French folks can be quite annoyed by this behavior and be rude to you, the next time you ask them for directions.

If you want to be welcome in France, try to speak in a lower voice, and French people will love you for that.

Here is a short video that will help you understand the differences between French and American a little bit better. An American girl and a French girl talking about it…

I hope you enjoyed this post, and that it was helpful to you. Please, let me know in your comment below.
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About Sylviane

{ 9 comments… read them below or add one }

1 donna merrill February 21, 2014 at 8:14 pm

Hi Sylviane,

Oh yes, I sure did love this post! When watching the video, it reminds me of living in New York City. We don’t make eye contact, nor do we accept people coming over to us starting a conversation. And of course, someone being loud, we walk the other way.

When traveling, we must keep in mind to first try to understand the culture and byways. Then abide by them.

Thanks once again for a great learning experience.

-Donna

Reply

2 Sylviane Nuccio February 22, 2014 at 3:06 am

I Donna,

Yes, I lived in New York City for 5 years and there it’s pretty much each one for oneself, but you really get tired of that :) At least I did.

You notice how loud Americans are even more in foreign countries. Man you can spot them miles away :) That’s probably the first thing that you notice in them. I remember that when I was living in Paris.

I’m glad you enjoyed this post, Donna :)

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3 William Butler February 23, 2014 at 6:23 pm

Hi Sylviane,
An important aspect in understanding other people is appreciating their culture, so thanks for the education about French culture.

I lived in Quebec for one year when I was 10 years old, so I know and remember a small amount of French. I know what you mean about loud people. I, too, tend to get my guard up when people are overly assertive, aggressive.

Have a great Sunday!
Bill
William Butler invites you to read…Decisions! Decisions! 10 Ways To Make Right DecisionsMy Profile

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4 Sylviane Nuccio February 26, 2014 at 2:53 am

Hi Bill,

Nice to see you here and so sorry for the late reply, as much as I need comments on this blog :)

Culture make a huge difference in people’s behavior, indeed, so understanding the culture is super important.

Thank you so much for your feedback.

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5 Des February 24, 2014 at 12:07 am

That is totally different and great experiences ever! It is really important to understand their culture or what they believe in.

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6 Sylviane Nuccio February 26, 2014 at 2:49 am

Yes, it’s very important the understand the culture, indeed.

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7 Robert L February 26, 2014 at 11:16 pm

This is great, it’s one of the main things I come across from people traveling to France or trying to learn the French language through immersion in the country.

I think it speaks more to the people who believe the French to be rude than it does of the French, as people often have poor expectations.

Thanks for this clarification article, it’s very good!

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8 Zach February 27, 2014 at 4:38 pm

Hey Sylviane,

Some great info in here that I didn’t even know! I want to visit France in the near future so it’s great to get this stuff under my belt. I had no idea that greetings were so important in France, I guess reflecting on my experiences, I don’t put a lot of emphasis on greetings – which actually seems kind of odd when you think about it!

Great info,

Zach

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9 Lisa Magoulas February 27, 2014 at 5:03 pm

Hi Sylviane,
I always love your posts about France and French culture. I’m living vicariously through you. I had no idea of the culture differences, but it makes sense. I know when we go to Cancun every year, I notice how loud and obnoxious some people are and sad to say, they are usually Americans. Have a wonderful day – Lisa

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